Merpati Air jet brakes apart on landing, 70 injured


MANOKWARI, Indonesia – A routine domestic flight in Indonesia almost ended in disaster Tuesday when a jet carrying over 100 passengers broke apart on landing, injuring more than 70 people, officials said.

The Merpati airline Boeing 737 bounced off the tarmac at Rendani domestic airport in Manokwari, West Papua, hurtled into trees and skidded into a shallow river, director general of civil aviation Herry Bhakti Singayuda told AFP.

“All the passengers were in a total panic, some even screamed and cried,” said passenger Zainal Hayat, 52, who was being treated in hospital with facial injuries.

“We flew safely and the plane touched down smoothly on the runway but it just didn’t stop. It skidded very fast and I felt it hit something twice before it stopped and tumbled down.

“I got out through a crack in the plane near my seat.”

Singayuda said the plane came to a halt with its tail section in the river about 200 metres (220 yards) from the end of the landing strip.

“All 103 passengers and six crew members are safe. Some are injured,” he said.

The vast Indonesian archipelago relies heavily on air transport and has one of Asia’s worst air safety records.

The European Union banned all Indonesia-registered aircraft from flying over its airspace in June 2007, acting on a report by the International Civil Aviation Organization criticising the country’s safety standards.

Four airlines including national carrier Garuda Indonesia were taken off the blacklist last July due to safety improvements, but Merpati, which flies only domestic routes, remains banned.

Heavy rain and fog were thought to have played a part in Tuesday’s crash, Singayuda said, although investigators had yet to reach the scene.

The navy and general hospitals in Manokwari saw 71 people, including 15 who had to be admitted for in-patient treatment of facial wounds, head injuries and broken bones, officials at the hospitals said.

Witnesses said the left wing broke off the plane as it smashed into the trees at the end of the runway. The cockpit was also almost completely separated from the rest of the fuselage.

The plane was flying from Sorong, also in West Papua province, to Manokwari, a distance of about 340 kilometres (210 miles).

Transport ministry experts from the capital Jakarta were on their way to the rugged province in the far east of the country to investigate, an official said.

The state-run Antara news agency reported that the plane was believed to have experienced engine trouble, but this was not confirmed.

Merpati corporate secretary Sukandi ruled out pilot error.

“It was raining when the plane landed. The pilots followed all the safety procedures regarding landing in wet conditions,” he said.